The World Food Prize Foundation

The Borlaug Blog

Mind and Bridge the Gap….

By Purvi Mehta
Head - Asia, Agriculture Development, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and WFPF Council of Advisors

Women’s continued role in agriculture is well-marked, well-realised and often underestimated. Close to 48 percent of overall agricultural work in developing countries is done by women. In some sectors, like livestock, this can reach up to 80-90 percent. For example, in India--the world’s largest livestock producer--over 70 percent of livestock work is performed by women. Despite their large presence and contribution, women farmers often are not equipped to succeed in farming.  In fact, the odds are stacked against them.  One way in which this inequity plays out is their unequal access to input -- supplies -- and output -- markets. Women have less access to inputs (e.g. seeds, fertilizer, labour, finance), critical services (e.g. training, insurance) and organised markets, when compared to their male counterparts.

Does this inequity have a cost? Yes. Globally, research has consistently shown that inequity in access to resources impacts both the economic well-being of women farmers, as well as overall agricultural output. Nearly a decade ago, the UN FAO’s annual food security report estimated that if women were provided the same access to productive resources as men, they would increase the yields on their farms by 20-30 percent, which could add 2.5–4 percent to the total agricultural output in developing countries.[1]

So what can be done to address this inequity and incentivize women to make farming more lucrative for them? 

One area to focus on is women's land rights and giving them access and ownership to land--the most fundamental requirement for farming. In most developing nations, less than 10 percent of women own land, denying them the ability to be defined as ‘farmers’, which often means landowners. Women in agriculture shall continue to be dismissed as farm labour and not farmers or farm leaders, if they don’t own that land. They will continue to work on their father’s, their husband’s, and later their son’s land unless they can achieve land ownership.

The second factor is markets. Markets are the ultimate reasons farmers farm. The consistent disparity in price realisation between men and women is well analysed. One of the key reasons for price disparity is inequitable access to catalytic technologies.  Mobile phones, for example, are becoming a very important tool in farming to buy, sell, report, debate, transfer money, and claim insurance. There are key inequalities in women’s access to phones. Across low- and middle-income countries, women are 10 percent less likely to own a mobile phone than men, and 313 million fewer women than men use mobile internet. Thus, social inequalities often translate into digital inequalities. 

Poverty surely is sexist and hits women harder. Let us make sure that the instruments to tackle poverty, such as agriculture, become less inequitable and less sexist; and, let’s optimize agriculture to help women farmers play the game with equal access and equal opportunities.

[1] FAO:

03/24/2021 8:00 AM |Add a comment
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